Updated: Oct 2, 2020
A restorative and distinctive concept of the world of slavery themed with a great adventure, ‘The Water Dancer’ is the story of America's oldest struggle; the scuffle to accept human races as equal against all odds of racism, by one of the most creative thinkers and intellectual writers. Motivated by the author's daring and conspicuous aptitude the reader can experience the emotions of his beautifully depicted characters.
The language of the book is captivated by lyrical, emotional and poetic words that have a rhythmic impression on your imagination. The sentences whirl around the protagonist, contrasting the shameful acts of slavery against his virtues. They bridge the broken link between his lost connections and the new bonds that he so strongly wanted to complete, yet his powerful imagination could either help him save everything or learn the biggest lesson of his life.
The story revolves around the life of Hiram, a slave with a photographic memory whose superpower seems to be his imagination and yet has a hard time recalling his mother. The psychical suffering and brutality of slavery described by him, give us cold shudders and shake us to the core.
The journey through his imaginative power would not only take him on a trip to places he’d never dreamed possible but also force him to confront his memories and truths about his life. While struggling through the realms of reality versus fantasy he searches for freedom in a life where he and his loved ones had been born as slaves. The reader appears to be wandering in and out of the narrative descriptions where Coates emphasizes the power of imagination. Fundamentally, this novel is a story of slavery, the shameful injustice and the horrific treatment of human beings alongside the craftiness of the people in the Underground transporting people to freedom, in the south during 1860’s. An influential narrative depicting the life of slaves on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, showing the horrors of slavery with the deliberate practice of breaking up families and loving relationships and its psychological trauma. Coates gives us profoundly a distressing and heartbreaking story infused with humanity and compassion.
The fight for freedom leads to the underground merger with its hopes and dreams of a better future. The hole in Hiram’s memory where his mother used to be, forms the central metaphor of The Water Dancer. Coates had often argued that one of society’s greater sins is not just slavery, but the refusal to look slavery in the face, to deal honestly with the fact that slavery was foundational to the country and its aftereffects are still to be seen. In order to fully use his powers, Hiram must allow himself to experience the worst effects of slavery in his life by recalling his mother.
The novel wrestles with contradictory views on how a justified battle should be waged or is there any impartial explanation for revenge. The fight against injustice never has a clear cut path when the characters take down a black man who betrayed other slaves, here I believe that the writer is establishing that punishment would not fit the crime if that person was trapped in the same unjust system as the rest of them. The protagonist seems to be in a struggle to justify the vices of those who had done him wrong including his father.
“…I knew that my father’s statement could only be reconciled through the peculiar religion of Virginia; Virginia where it was held that a whole race would submit to chains…”
The most important lesson comes from the protagonist where he refers to his white father as his father and never as his master though he is reminded of his slavery throughout but there is a part of him that goes beyond the superficial connection of skin color. It is that part of his imagination that shows him a hopeful future beyond the unnatural labels of the so-called real life.
I believe that the novel is highly motivating with an underlying message which implies that no matter how wrong things have been or might be in one’s life, staying true to one’s morals, seeking the light of hope and believing in your own power will ultimately help in achieving freedom from the chained rituals of the society.
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